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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » SH to J »

Ca­ja — Case, Cash, Cap­sule

The Span­ish ca­ja (“box”) comes from the Latin cap­sa for the same.

This gives us a sur­pris­ing con­nec­tion to some Eng­lish words that, on the sur­face, sound very dif­fer­ent than ca­ja:

  • Case — In the sense of, well, a box.
  • Cap­sule — Still re­tains the ‑ps- of the orig­i­nal Latin.
  • Cash — Orig­i­nal­ly meant “mon­ey box”. Fun­ny how the name of the con­tain­er turned in­to the name of the thing it­self.

The Latin turned in­to the Span­ish through an in­ter­est­ing pat­tern: the ‑sh- sound in Latin con­sis­tent­ly turned in­to the ‑j- sound in Span­ish (at first re­tain­ing the orig­i­nal pro­nun­ci­a­tion, but then un­der the in­flu­ence of Ara­bic, grew to the throat-clear­ing sound). With ca­ja, we have a slight vari­a­tion of the pat­tern, where the ‑ps- sound turned in­to the ‑j- sound. Thus, the c‑ps maps ex­act­ly to c‑j.

Flo­jo and Flush, Flu­ent

The Span­ish flo­jo means “slack, loose” — but it is a very com­mon word in Span­ish, of­ten used to mean “re­laxed” in a neg­a­tive way, in sens­es like, “They cut them­selves some slack.”

Flo­jo comes from the Latin fluxus, mean­ing the same as the Span­ish. From fluxus, we get a bunch of Eng­lish words, in­clud­ing: flu­ent, flu­id, fluc­tu­ate and even (via flu­ent) af­flu­ent and in­flu­ence. We al­so get the more fun flush and the most ob­vi­ous flux (as in, “to be in flux.”) All of these can be un­der­stood in the sense that, that which is loose flows — and all of these words flow in one way or an­oth­er: liq­uids are flu­id, you speak flu­ent­ly, flush­ing wa­ter flows, mon­ey flows if you are af­flu­ent, etc.

The ‑x- in the orig­i­nal Latin tend­ed to dis­ap­pear in­to the Eng­lish (hence leav­ing the vow­els be­fore and af­ter, as in flu­ent or flu­id) or be­came a ‑sh- sound. This is an ex­am­ple of the com­mon pat­tern of the ‑sh- sounds map­ping to the throat-clear­ing ‑j- in Span­ish, with the fl-sh of flush map­ping to the fl‑j of flo­jo.

Pere­jil and Pars­ley

Pere­jil and its Eng­lish ver­sion pars­ley sound very dif­fer­ent. But they are, ac­tu­al­ly, et­y­mo­log­i­cal­ly the same word.

They sound dif­fer­ent be­cause of­ten the ‑s- and ‑sh- sounds in Span­ish turned in­to the let­ter ‑j- with the Ara­bic throat clear­ing sound as a pro­nun­ci­a­tion. Thus, the p‑r-j‑l of pere­jil maps ex­act­ly to the p‑r-s‑l of pars­ley.

Val­i­ja — Valise

In some of the Span­ish words, they say male­ta to mean “suit­case.” But in oth­er parts, such as Ar­genti­na, they say val­i­ja.

Val­i­ja, al­though it sounds dif­fer­ent from any­thing Eng­lish, ac­tu­al­ly is quite sim­i­lar to the almost-forgotten–my grand­par­ents still use it!– Eng­lish word, that al­so means “suit­case” , of valise.

Al­though they sound dif­fer­ent, the con­nec­tion be­comes clear if we re­mem­ber the pat­tern of the sh- to j- con­ver­sion: Latin words that had an sh- sound tend­ed to turn in­to the j- sound in Span­ish. Think of sherry/jerez.

In this case, the French valise en­tered Eng­lish un­changed but when the French word was bor­rowed in­to Span­ish, it was Span­ish-ified with the s- sound turn­ing in­to a j- sound. Thus, the v‑l-s maps to the v‑l-j.

Jabón — Soap

Soap and the Span­ish for the same, jabón, sound like they have noth­ing in com­mon. But sounds can be de­ceiv­ing.

Both come from the same root: the Latin se­bum, mean­ing “grease”.

How can such dif­fer­ent words be so re­lat­ed? Easy: the Latin s- sound and its vari­a­tions (sh‑, ch- and sy- for ex­am­ple) usu­al­ly be­came, un­der the ara­bic in­flu­ence, a j- sound in Span­ish but re­mained more in­tact in Eng­lish.

Thus, the s‑p of soap maps al­most ex­act­ly to the j‑b of jabón. The “p” and “b” are of­ten eas­i­ly in­ter­changed as well.

Less fun is al­so not­ing that, from the same Latin root, mean­ing “grease” we al­so get se­b­or­rhea (a med­ical con­di­tion of hav­ing too much grease on your skin).

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